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Over easy: Animal planet takes over oddball news

  • Mink the black bear sow has recently returned to the streets of Hanover, N.H. (Courtesy Town of Hanover)

  • Shown in an undated photograph, more than 150 great white sharks have been spotted since June off the coast of Cape Cod in 2019. (Greg Skomal - Mass. Division of Marine Fisheries)

  • This 2017 photo provided by Alabama Cooperative Extension System shows a large yellow jacket nest in Perry County, Ala. Scientists are cautioning Alabama residents to be on the lookout for yellow jacket super nests. Researchers say milder winters combined with an abundant food supply allow some colonies to survive later in the year and grow to the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. (Dr. Charles Ray/Alabama Cooperative Extension System via AP)

  • A red squirrel perches on a tree branch in Calais, Vt., Sunday, March 2, 2008. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

For the Valley News
Published: 8/9/2019 9:50:30 PM
Modified: 8/9/2019 9:57:16 PM

Here at the West Lebanon Institute for Observation of Animal Behaviors and Hijinks — WLIOABH — we are closely monitoring developments in the so-called natural world.

If you have not been following oddball news lately, perhaps because there is so much of it, you may have missed a string of out-of-the-ordinary stories related to Mother Nature.

Close to home, the Valley Newsreported in May that Mink the black bear, who was banished to near the Canada border last summer after she and her cubs became habituated to human goodies, had returned after a remarkable overland odyssey to Hanover. 

She was seen weeks earlier in Pomfret and Woodstock, but perhaps found Vermont not to her liking. It’s not known if she was put off by the soil being too hard or too soft, excessive liberalism, or some other factor. 

According to data from a tracking collar, Mink meandered thousands of looping miles, along the way dropping 35 pounds to a svelte 165. She covered some 30 miles a day, without the treats the bears savored in Hanover — bird seed and doughnuts. If wildlife officials hadn’t intervened, she may well have worked her way up the food chain to tacos, macaroni and cheese, gluten-free foods and oat milk, possibly over porridge.

If she was a Kardashian, she would already have a best-selling diet featured in infomercials. Imagine the human testimonials. “It was easy as one, two, three. I simply avoided bird seed and doughnuts, and strolled 30 miles a day. I enjoyed all the oats, berries, grass, insects and larvae I could eat. Plus sensible portions of fish, meat and carrion. The Mink Diet worked for me!” 

Farther afield, The New York Timesreported in June on an upsurge in wasp colonies in Alabama that “can grow to be as big as a Volkswagen Beetle and can have 15,000 wasps.” There haven’t been sufficient deep freezes in winter lately to cut them down to size. You may not believe in climate change, but 15,000 wasps might get your attention.

We wonder if something big is afoot in Alabama, which admittedly has not had our full sympathies since 1861. Is it experiencing a natural phenomenon, or “righteous retribution” directed by a higher power? 

Alabamians surely believe in the latter, if it’s directed at someone else.

Last weekend scientists said there had been more than 150 great white shark sightings off the Massachusetts coast since June 1. Experts say warmer ocean temperatures may be a factor, and reassuringly contend that the sharks are hunting seals, not humans. One scientist recommended that people stay close to shore and “steer clear’’ from seals. 

We at the West Lebanon Institute for Observation of Animal Behaviors and Hijinks concur. Nothing good comes from palling around with seals, despite their vocalizations that one source described as short barks, tonal honks, grunts, growls, roars and moans. That would seem to make them perfect companions at certain tailgating events and in the wee hours at frat parties. But don’t be fooled: Seals are natural freeloaders, and do not have your back — unless your back is lathered in fish oil.

Drawing less scientific interest this summer is the population of local squirrels, which boomed last year, leading to the Great Squirrel Massacre on local roads. Authorities attributed the squirrel boom to abundant food supplies in the previous growing season, which made squirrels fat and happy and, we might add, romantic! 

This summer squirrels seem more scarce, though few humans fret about the fate of the jittery scampering rodents. As far as we know, there are no Friends of Squirrels organizations about. No one uses fake orange vests to bring comfort squirrels into shops and markets. 

This illustrates the selective empathy of humans who, after all, are animals themselves and no strangers to unorthodox behaviors. Consider the “Florida man” stories. They are forever falling naked through ceilings into liquor stores during half-baked break-ins. Because it’s Florida this is, like visiting Disney World, a four-season activity.

Esquirefound these headlines just in January:

Florida Man Finds a WWII Grenade, Places It in His Truck, Drives to Taco Bell.

Florida Man Who Drove Ferrari Into Water Said, ‘Jesus Told Him To.’

Florida Man Learns Hard Way He Stole Laxatives, Not Opioids.

To the extent that we each have some “Florida man’’ inside us, we should not doubt that we are subject to natural (and perhaps unnatural) forces we don’t understand. 

Indeed, human animals are jumpy as squirrels and slippery as seals, can maraud like bears and ravage like sharks. Our politics resemble the swollen angry wasp nests of Alabama.

All this calls for close watching, but sometimes when it concerns humans we at the West Lebanon Institute for Observation of Animal Behaviors and Hijinks simply have to look away. 

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.




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